For far too long, the church has tried to make disciples using a one-size-fits-all approach. Some churches advocate 1-on-1 discipling, others try getting everyone into a small group, while still others training through mission trips or service projects. Yet others focus all their efforts on attracting people to a large group gathering to hear biblical teaching and preaching. But does one size really fit everyone?
Based on careful biblical study and years of experience making disciples in the local church, Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom have identified five key relationships where discipleship happens in our lives. In each relational context we need to understand how discipleship occurs and we need to set appropriate expectations for each context.
Discipleship That Fits shows you the five key ways discipleship occurs. It looks at how Jesus made disciples and how disciples were formed in the early church. Each of the contexts is necessary at different times and in different ways as a person grows toward maturity in Christ:
- Public Relationships: The church gathering corporately for worship
- Social Relationships: Networks of smaller relationships where we engage in mission and live out our faith in community
- Personal Relationships: Small groups of six to sixteen people where we challenge and encourage one another on a regular basis
- Transparent Relationships: Close relationships of three to four where we share intimate details of our lives for accountability
- The Divine Relationship: Our relationship with Jesus Christ where we grow through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit
Filled with examples and stories, Alex and Bobby show you how to develop discipleship practices in each relational context by sharing how Jesus did it, how the early church practiced it, and how churches are discipling people today.
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About the Author
Bobby Harrington is the co-founder of discipleship.org and the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (19 years). He is the chairman of the board for the Relational Discipleship Network and the co-author of DiscipleShift, Dedicated: Training Your Children to Trust and Follow Jesus, and Discipleship that Fits. He has been married to Cindy for over 35 years and they have two adult children who are disciples of Jesus.
Alex is a visionary speaker, consultant, writer and practitioner on mission and discipleship, especially the practicalities of building a movement around missional communities. Originally from England, Alex has served in church leadership for over two decades, and has helped many churches and denominations develop intentional disciple making processes. Married to Hannah and with three sons, the family are part of Grace Church in Long Beach CA, where Alex also leads Dandelion (www.dandelionresourcing.com), an organization that empowers disciple making leaders and churches.
Read an Excerpt
Discipleship that Fits
The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow
By Bobby Harrington, Alex Absalom
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2016 Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom
All rights reserved.
IT'S A JOURNEY
Ryan and Ginger are passionate about training the children in their missional community to be disciple makers. A missional community is twenty to fifty people who serve others, build community, and make disciples Their missional community is made up of young families, most with children who are elementary school age. At the start of their gatherings, they share a meal together. Then after everyone has assembled and finished eating (typically between thirty-five and forty-five people total, counting children and adults), thanksgivings are shared around the table. Every person, young and old, is invited to contribute, simply by sharing something from the past week for which they are thankful to God.
Next, a short story from Scripture is read out loud twice to the room. Then parents are told to find a corner in the house, close their Bibles, and retell that same story twice to their children! In response the kids tell it back to them, and then they discuss as a family what God is saying to them out of that passage. Afterward everyone comes back together and a few reports take place.
This time with the families together is followed by small group time. There are groups for men and for women, for the seven- to thirteen-year-olds, and for the three- to six-year-olds. The seven- to thirteen-year-olds are led by a couple of young teens, and the youngest group is led by some nine-year-olds, who take turns joining them. They play a game, look at a Bible story, sing some songs, and pray. The kids love it (as do the parents!), and you can tell that the children are tangibly growing in their walk with Jesus. A third children's small group is about to launch, as the overall community is growing quickly and the kids' small groups are proving to be a fruitful avenue.
What a wonderful picture of disciples making disciples! It's something so easy, "even" a child can do it!
WHAT IS A DISCIPLE?
When you look at Jesus and see the kind of person he is, the quality of life he lives, and the depth of character he has, do you ever wish that you could be more like him? We certainly do!
We have good news for you. If you share this desire to trust and imitate Jesus more closely and you are willing to commit to doing what it takes to look and live like him more consistently, then — bingo! — you are now a disciple of Jesus! Being a disciple of Jesus simply means that you are modeling your life — your thoughts, your words, your actions, your everything — after the example and teaching Jesus has given us. And the related word discipleship simply refers to the process through which Jesus turns us into people who trust and follow him.
A friend of ours put it like this:
A disciple is the kind of person who becomes the kind of person Jesus would be.
We love that! Wouldn't you like to be the kind of person who shows others what Jesus is like?
Bobby uses the following definition of a disciple:
A disciple is someone who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and is committed to Jesus' kingdom mission.
People like this definition because it ties together the focus (Jesus), the process (being changed), and the call to lead others to become disciples with us (Jesus' kingdom mission).
What we want you to see is that being a disciple is all about becoming like Jesus, and then helping others become like Jesus, because that is the way God has designed for us to experience fullness of life. One of our favorite verses in the Bible is John 10:10, where Jesus says, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Becoming like Jesus is the greatest thing we could ever wish for someone!
Alex uses a slightly different formulation of disciple, yet with the same goal in mind:
A disciple is an intentional learner from Jesus.
Thus the two questions of discipleship are:
1. What is Jesus saying?
2. What am I doing in response?
As you will see in a moment, this definition picks up on the idea that being a disciple is akin to being an apprentice, and that discipleship is a dynamic process. The two questions — "What is Jesus saying?" and "What am I doing in response?" — are like viruses when released into a community! Whatever situation in life we are facing, we can use the two questions of discipleship to stop and analyze the issue and then take the next steps as followers of Jesus.
It's not hard to find lots of fabulous pithy statements that summarize what it means to be a disciple. And all of the best ones revolve around the truth that a disciple hears and obeys Jesus, leading to a lifestyle that reflects him well to the watching world.
Since this book is all about discipleship and being a disciple of Jesus, we think it is enormously helpful to begin here — with a simple phrase that summarizes what being a disciple means in the context of your local church. Such a description gives us something to aim at and neatly provides us with a snapshot of what the church, as a Jesus-centered community, is all about. At a personal level, a definition of discipleship will help you to make intentional choices in your everyday life that draw you closer to Christlikeness.
Even though we don't all use exactly the same definition, it is essential in every local church context to have a clear and Bible-based definition so that people understand the goal — being disciples of Jesus. Of course, there is value in going deeper, in tackling a far more detailed unpacking of what it means to be a disciple. Throughout the two-thousand-year history of the church, this journey of discipleship has been front and center in the thoughts and hearts of so many of the great men and women of God who have gone before us. Countless areas could be touched upon, and many excellent resources are available to help in areas where you are being challenged by Jesus to go deeper.
Such in-depth analysis of the content of discipleship is beyond the scope of this book. However, what this book will focus on is something that tends to get neglected in all the discussion about discipleship. We have found that having a clear definition of the goal is invaluable, but equally important is understanding the different ways in which God works to shape us into disciples. That's what this book is for. It is written to help you think about the different contexts in which Jesus disciples us.
You see, it is a myth that you can be discipled solely in one size of gathering, and we will show you how to set smart expectations for the different times and places where Jesus helps people to grow and mature. Before we jump into that, we need to add a few more brushstrokes to our understanding of how discipleship works.
WHAT IS DISCIPLESHIP?
We want to keep the concept of discipleship simple, and so we have a simple definition of it. And though there are different terms for discipleship, each with its own nuance (which is very helpful), for the purposes of this book, we are going to equate the term discipleship with disciple making. So don't try to read any nuance into the words we use: discipleship means disciple making, and disciple making means discipleship.
Matthew 28:19–20 gives us a summary description of Jesus' discipleship mandate: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
We do not use the exact words from this text, but we use the concepts and principles in a way that makes it easily applicable and repeatable today. We simply tell people that disciple making is helping people trust and follow Jesus. The four concepts behind these verses provide us with four summary words: Help, Trust, Follow, and Jesus.
Help: We are to initiate and be intentional — to "go" and "make disciples" (v. 19). We use the word help because it is a love-based word that sums up all the various intentional actions in disciple making, from going to modeling to teaching to coaching to releasing.
Trust: Disciple making is about the heart change toward God upon which conversion/baptism is based — "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (v. 19).
Follow: Disciple making is about obedience and sanctification (increasing holiness) — "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (v. 20).
Jesus: He is both the focus and the constant presence in discipleship, just as he promised — "Surely I am with you always" (v. 20).
With these four components from Matthew 28 in mind, we define discipleship this way:
Discipleship is helping people to trust and follow Jesus.
As we said earlier, this is a simple definition, but don't assume it is simplistic. While it is easy to use and apply, it is comprehensive as well. Bobby uses this definition widely in the ministry of his church and discipleship.org, and he also has coauthored a book called The Disciple Makers Handbook, which describes in greater detail how everyday Christians live out this definition.
We have found this definition to be easy to use in a local church context. High school students easily adopt it and grasp the key ideas. It is also easy to use in family life, where parents can use it with their children to help them grow into adulthood as people who trust and follow Jesus on their own.
Trust and follow Jesus. Trust covers all the teachings in the Bible that call us to rely on God's grace, promises, and power. Follow encompasses all the teachings in the Bible that require us to respond to God — in obedience, faithfulness, and resistance to sin.
Both parts together capture the New Testament meaning of the word faith. And both parts are consistent with the response necessitated by Jesus and his gospel.
A Disciple Is an Apprentice
In the New Testament, the word for "disciple" (mathetes) occurs 264 times. In its original ancient Greek context, it meant someone who was either an apprentice in a trade or a pupil of a teacher.
Apprenticeship is a helpful picture for Jesus followers because it conveys the sense of a journey that cannot be bypassed in order to mature as a disciple. It takes time and practice to become a mature disciple, yet the only way you truly grow is by actually trying out the lifestyle you are observing. Apprenticeship allows us to gain a wonderful mix of both experience and knowledge, conveyed to us in the context of a long-term, deeply committed relationship. The Greek philosopher Aristotle noted that we owe more to our teachers than to our parents, since (as he put it) our parents give us life only, but our teachers give us the art of living well.
You see, the critical question that the ancients understood is this: "From whom are you learning?"
Put another way, a disciple is someone who is learning from a master craftsman.
For instance, if you want to learn how to do carpentry, you would be very unwise to ask me! I might be able to talk a good game for a minute or two, but you'd quickly realize I was scraping the barrel for information. A quick look in my garage would reveal that my carpentry tools are limited to a hammer (good for most things I find I need to do!) and a couple of quietly rusting saws tucked away in the corner. However, if I introduce you to my friend Dave, you would have an entirely different experience of carpentry. Dave is a master craftsman, with decades of experience in everything to do with woodwork. He has a truck full of all sorts of interesting-looking tools, many with the added bonus of power cords. Dave knows exactly what to do in every carpentry situation. He demonstrated that know-how to my family when he oversaw the task of finishing our basement, installing all sorts of items and hand building a perfect cupboard and shelving system that is the focal point of the room. If it had been left to me, there would be a couple of wobbly shelves clinging to the wall for dear life! When it comes to developing carpentry skills, you'd do well to learn from someone like my friend Dave.
When it comes to growing spiritually, from whom are you learning? And if your answer truly is Jesus, then what are you doing about what he is showing you?
To put that more precisely, what has Jesus been speaking to you about in the past seven days?
And what are you actually doing in response?
If you can't answer these questions, it's worth asking: Are you really committed to being an apprentice of Jesus?
Dallas Willard comments, "The assumption of Jesus' program for his people on earth was that they would live their lives as his students and co-laborers. They would find him so admirable in every respect — wise, beautiful, powerful, and good — that they would constantly seek to be in his presence and be guided, instructed, and helped by him in every aspect of their lives."
Being a disciple means that I model my life around that of my master. I take note of how he lives, what he says, how he says it. I tease out his motivations and values so that when I encounter new situations, I can attempt to represent him faithfully. After each new experience, I discuss with him what went on and listen to his feedback, on both what went well and what could be improved next time. And then I try it out again.
Discipleship requires a humility that recognizes that I still have much to learn, and that because I belong to Jesus, he can send me into new places and situations. John Wimber describes this mindset: "A disciple is always ready to take the next step. If there is anything that characterizes Christian maturity, it is the willingness to become a beginner again for Jesus Christ. It is the willingness to put our hand in his and say, 'I'm scared to death, but I'll go with you. You're the Pearl of great price.'"
As I do this, I learn to imitate what Jesus would do in the different situations and relationships of life.
Discipleship as Imitation
Because I (Alex) was raised in England, drinking tea is a central part of my cultural identity! Whatever the situation — a celebration, a welcome, a crisis, an afternoon break — the response of a good Brit is to put the kettle on and brew a pot of tea for everyone in the room to share.
Coming to the United States was quite a shock, mainly because everyone drank coffee and seemed ignorant of the vital role of tea in extending the kingdom of God. I would try explaining to my new colleagues that coffee is the devil's brew, and that the word theist means (1) someone who believes in a personal God and (2) someone who loves tea, ergo tea drinking is from Jesus, but my words had little impact.
I was greatly disheartened.
So I took a new approach. I brought an electric kettle and some tea into the office and simply made my own cup of tea. One of my colleagues was standing nearby and asked what I was doing. When I explained that I was making a cup of tea, she replied, "That looks nice — could you make me one?" As I did, I showed her the importance of boiling the water and allowing the tea to brew and explained why milk works better than cream. So she went off to her desk with her cup of tea and no doubt produced some of the finest work of her career over the rest of the morning. The next day she saw me and declared that she'd really enjoyed her tea, and could I show her again how I made it just right, which of course I gladly did.
A couple of days later I was walking down the corridor and passed one of my other colleagues, who was carrying what looked like a cup of tea. "That looks nice — do you drink tea?"
"Not until yesterday, but I saw Su drinking tea, so I asked her to make me a cup as well. You should try it sometime!"
Over the next few months the number of tea drinkers slowly went up, the supplies of tea in the staff room increased, and the coffeepot looked lonelier and lonelier. Tea drinking had become the dominant source of refreshment, and the shift had come about through a process of discipleship by imitation.
So often we in the church focus the vast bulk of our discipling (and evangelistic) energies on the transfer of information. And while there certainly is an unending depth to what we believe, an overemphasis on information transfer is not the most effective way to disciple others — and definitely is not the predominant biblical pattern.
Excerpted from Discipleship that Fits by Bobby Harrington, Alex Absalom. Copyright © 2016 Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction – For far too long, the church has approached discipleship with the assumption that there is a single model or context for discipleship. Some churches advocate 1-on-1, others try small groups, while still others emphasize mission trips or discipleship through large group teaching and preaching. But this one-size-fits all mentality doesn’t work in real life. We need to understand how discipleship occurs in different relational contexts and we need to set our expectations to match the context.
Chapter 1: Our Public Relationships
The public context for discipleship refers to the ways in which the church gathers corporately, as a body of Christ followers, and includes people into that community. This is the discipleship context for inspiring people and creating move-mentum through public preaching. In most churches, this typically happens at a Sunday gathering of 150+ people during a worship service.
Chapter 2: Our Social Relationships
Though we identify corporately with a larger body of believers, most of us can only have social relationships with a group of between 20 and 70 people. This is the context for community, mission, and practicing our faith. It is the ideal context for a missional community.
Chapter 3: Our Personal Relationships
Who do you look to for support and help? Who challenges you and speaks into your life when needed? These are the relationships that provide support and challenges, and it includes the typical small group gathering of 6 to 16 people.
Chapter 4: Our Transparent Relationships
These are the relationships where we are vulnerable and intimatethe safe relationships in our life where we can be completely honest. This is the typical gathering for an effective D-Group, a same-gender gatherings of 2 to 5 men or women where more intensive discipleship occurs.
Chapter 5: The Divine Relationship
Every Christian believer is ultimately a disciple of Jesus, following him through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is an essential relationship where the Holy Spirit empowers our identity, reveals our gifting, and enables us to walk in truth and love. This is the context in which we practice the individual spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, silence and meditation.
Summarizes the content and includes a Q and A section on some of the practical questions.
What People are Saying About This
I plan to add this book to my equipping toolbelt because I’m confident it will aid the church in fulfilling the Everyday Commission Jesus has given us. -- Jeff Vanderstelt, visionary leader, Soma Family of Churches
Reading this book was like having a conversation with friends and authors I respect. You are going to find it very useful with your colleagues and members of your congregation. -- Bill Hull, author, Jesus Christ Disciplemaker and Conversion and Discipleship
Presents a simple yet powerful framework for considering the contexts within which discipleship happens. It will help individuals to live more balanced lives and church leaders to be more strategic. -- Todd Wilson, founder and director, Exponential Conference; author of More
Bobby and Alex have done a great job explaining that discipleship happens best and only in relationship. Not only do these guys write about it; they live it out as well. -- Jim Putman, pastor; founder, Relational Discipleship Network; author, DiscipleShift
This book is a winner. Biblically substantial and rich in practical suggestions, it’s a very welcome addition to the growing writings on the essential area of discipleship. -- Alan Hirsch, founder, Future Travelers and 100Movements; author, The Forgotten Ways and The Faith of Leap
Refreshing. Balanced. Biblical. Practical. Thought-provoking.
This simple book carries a big punch, from practitioners, not theorists, and has a message we have needed for a long time. -- Neil Cole, author, Ordinary Hero, Organic Church, and Primal Fire
Although Jesus gave us a mandate to make disciples, he didn’t give us a manual. Keep this book handy. It will be a resource you refer to often as you invest in others. -- Robby Gallaty, senior pastor, Long Hollow Baptist Church
The words of Jesus in Matthew 28, “Go make disciples,” mean, “As you are going about living life, make disciple-makers.” Read this book, find your fit, and get on with doing it. -- Dave Buehring, president, Lionshare; author, A Discipleship Journey
A fresh and needed perspective. Bobby and Alex make discipleship more understandable and tangible for every Christian, in every kind of church. Useful and encouraging. -- Dr. Kennon Vaughn, lead pastor, Harvest Church; founder, Downline Ministries
Looking at five contexts for relationships, Bobby and Alex show us how to leverage each for fruitful discipling. This book is one that you will come back to over and over again. -- Dr. Dann Spader, founder, Sonlife and Global Youth Initiative